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Saturday, May 19, 2018

All The Way to Havana, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mike Curato. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 6 and up


beside farms, forests,
beaches, and forts,
toward the curved road
by the seawall, ... "

I was very interested in seeing this book, although I have never been to Cuba. My husband, a high school coach and hometown baseball player, visited in the early 1970s as a member of the Canadian national baseball team asked to participant in a tournament held there. He was enamored of the 1950 era cars that were so lovingly cared for by their owners. When I saw this book, written 45 years later and focused on one particular car, I knew how he felt then.

It's old, rebuilt again and again, and remains the family's trusted vehicle as their make their way from their small village to big city Havana. Their trip is taken to celebrate the 'zero-year' birthday of a cousin. While some Cuban cars run beautifully, Cara Cara has her own special sounds ...

"Some of this island's old cars purr like kittens,
but ours is so tired that she just chatters
like a busy chicken -

cara cara, cara cara,
cluck, cluck, cluck ...

Today Cara Cara sounds like a tiny baby chick.
pio pio
    pio pio,

The car stops, Papa does some more tinkering, and keeps trying until finally they are back on the road. The car fills with others in need a lift, the family, the gift and the cake. Upon arrival in Havana, the boy notices many cars similar to their own. The family party is enjoyed, the trip home uneventful, and further attention must be given the next day to the lovely Cara Cara.

"When he asks me which city-trip car I liked the most,
the answer is easy - our car! This noisy blue one,
with its ragged seats and cloudy windows,
because Cara Cara already belonged to our family
on the day when Abuelo, my old grandpa,
celebrated his zero-year birthday."

A lively telling and incredibly realistic illustrations take readers to the heart of Cuba. I am a huge fan of Margarita Engle; I love her storytelling. Mike Curato has done his homework. In fact, he did his research on a trip to Cuba. Using artwork created in pencil with digital color, readers are drawn to the brilliance of the island colors. The landscapes are detailed and authentic, the street scenes vibrant and full of life. The cars are perfect, allowing readers to see the variety, the mixing and matching that takes place to keep them in running order.

Their cars are as resilient as the Cuban people who keep them running. This celebration of Cuban life will entertain and attract many readers. Notes from both author and illustrator are welcome.

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